For a little while we are enduring sadness and suffering. This “little while” is not chiefly about the current pandemic. The sadness and suffering Our Lord references is persecution for the Faith, mistreatment and discrimination for being Christian, and increased inner turmoil caused by the devil, an unsympathetic society, and our own passions. So our sorrow comes both from forces outside our control, as well as from within ourselves: the ways we confront, deal with, and internalize the things that frighten and create anxiety.
Do we let what we hear, what we feel, what we experience control how we respond to others? And what we think and believe about God? And our ability to manage our bodies and words? Or do we live without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life? Knowing that whatever hurts our bodies can be readily and quickly overcome by the same Lord who offers us the healing of our souls, the medicine of immortality, and the hope of a glorified, transformed body?
Our Lord speaks about spiritual suffering. He refers to a sadness akin to when He Himself wept over the destruction of His city, His people, His loved ones. Yet those words are not only about that time, or another place, or other people. It is significant that we, in this time and place, also hear Our Lord’s comfort within his simple phrase: “a little while.”
Without a doubt, the effects of the pestilence we are experiencing also are hidden within the Lord’s “little while.” For a little while we will need to exercise patience, prudence, good will, balance, caution, and extra kindness. And we’ll need to keep in check our desires to blame, to judge, and most of all to fear. But the comfort is this: it’s only a ‘little while,’ even though it feels intolerably long and insufferable.
When St Peter endured this ‘little while,’ as this holy Apostle was hounded by the government and eventually executed for Christ’s sake, he nevertheless urged us to exercise our Christian faith by maintaining respect and obedience for those in authority, no matter who they were or how they treat us. “Submit to every human institution,” he teaches. Not just those institutions established by God, such as bishops or marriage. Certainly, we should seek to uplift, and not denigrate, these. But for St Peter the words, ‘every human institution’ specifically refer to an emperor and a society that does not tolerate the Christian faith. However counter-intuitive it sounds, however much we might chafe against those we are sure are in the wrong, we are still to ‘honor all men’ in the same way that we ‘love the brotherhood’ and ‘fear God.’
For this reason, the mindset of St Peter, which is the mind of Christ, is that we sacrifice all, suffer all, endure all, for the sake of everyone else. If we consider this carefully, then we will see a balance. On the one hand, getting upset at being inconvenienced is selfish. For being inconvenienced for the sake of protecting our brothers and sisters is a part of living God’s love and charity. On the other hand, our concern for another should not morph into a godless arrogance. Our action or inaction does not control whether a person lives or dies. And so while we cannot be cavalier and live as if the other person’s health or fears don’t matter, we must not also let our ours fear of infecting others become a form of pride that pushes aside the mercy and justice of God. For the sake of another and with the mind of Christ, then, we need to determine to set aside all pride, all fear, all selfishness, and all that inconveniences so that another may draw near with a true heart to the God of love.
The love of God, and having God’s heart for others: that is how we live in this ‘little while.’ This is the mindset Our Lord wishes to impart, the approach He gives with the words “a little while.” While everything swirls around us, while unease and dread builds within us, while it feels like things will get worse even as they seem to be getting better—let’s remember that this is not unprecedented; and that we have a Lord and God who has already been through the worst for us, and is able to lead safely us through even worse days than these.
Worse days than these are the days of the martyrs. We are not yet martyrs; neither should we volunteer to be martyrs. Yet we should also recall that we are not greater than our Master. Our blessed Jesus endured the worst with patience and with love for all, even those who tortured and abused Him. Yet He did not recoil. Because He prayed for His Father’s support and was not disappointed in His hope.
Since we are in Christ, it should not surprise us when we face times of heartache and disquietude. We should not be shaken when evil and tyranny and death and unsettling times arise. And we should not be rocked off the foundation Our Lord is, the foundation He has built within us by the Holy Mysteries.
The insufferable: that’s what we’re built for by the waters of Holy Baptism. The unbearable: that’s what Private Confession gets us through. The unendurable: that’s what the Holy Eucharist has been strengthening us for in previous months and years.
And so that we do not lose heart but take heart; so that we don’t give up or give in; so that we see the full and abundant Light and Life that awaits: that’s why Our Lord gives us in His Psalms both words that fit our complaints, and His words that comfort and reassure.
The insufferable: that is what Our Lord’s promises in Word, in prayer, and in Sacraments are designed to get us through. And why He is not slack in giving us what we need spiritually; and why, no matter how alone we feel, He and His saints are always with us, and will never leave us nor forsake us.
Near the surface of Our Lord’s ‘little while’ is the expectation which corresponds to that of an expectant mother who’s about to give birth. A pregnant mother endures all and sacrifices much of their life for the good of the little person growing within them. And when the time comes, there are signs and indications, but she doesn’t know precisely when she will be delivered. But she knows it will happen and when it does, her joy will exceed her travail.
The expectant mothers need to be our example. Like them, we need to soldier on knowing that the ‘little while’ of our ‘birth pangs’ will be followed by an even ‘longer while’ of heavenly gladness.